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Archive for August, 2009

├ępater les bourgeois

Posted by vlorbik on August 31, 2009

\bulletle radical galoisien remembers Ms. Sherry Tai.
\bulletNot For Long I Bet A new low in shared governance.
\bulletMaria Droujkova on edupunk.


Posted in DIY, Labor, MathWar | 1 Comment »

Tales Of Ordinary Madness

Posted by vlorbik on August 31, 2009

Carnival of Mathematics #56.

Posted in Carnivals | Leave a Comment »

Too Late To Do *Me* Any Good Though I Imagine

Posted by vlorbik on August 27, 2009

Randomly-walking Mike C. on Detexify. Amazing.

Posted in TeX | Leave a Comment »

concerning that of which we cannot speak

Posted by vlorbik on August 27, 2009

so. i’m recently becoming
more vividly aware of my distaste
for the analytic method.

my reaction against the doctrine of
as promulgated by pop psychology?
now understood by me to be
closely related to my
reaction to, well, the whole notion
of a musical “score”…
the math-anxiety-for-music thing
i noted in the first post
of my last personal blog.
it’s *also* related to the
“tricks for getting along with people
become evil when studied for the purpose
of *selling* the poor bastards some
crap they’d be better off never having
heard of at all” vibe i noted, for example,
in a piece in my zine
over ten years ago.

in a word, it’s the classic
analytic/romantic split
at the heart of _zamm_.

and one would do much better to go off
and reread that masterpiece than to
continue with *these* ill-formed
gropings in the dark. so i’ll just remark
that in *one* thing, i’ll have passed
the master. phaedrus is obsessed
in _zamm_ with what he comes to call
“the metaphysics of quality”…
where “quality” is the great undefined
source-of-all that he navelgazingly
tumbles into in a horrifying

but, hell. *i* know about quality.
quality comes from *caring*.

and that’s a beautiful thing.
or had *better* be; i’m pretty convinced
that this is as good as it’s gonna get.

the *sad* thing is that
caring comes from pain.

this is why “passion” means “suffering”…

Posted in Rambles, Ten Page News | 1 Comment »

why we fight

Posted by vlorbik on August 27, 2009

a well-developed mathematical theory
can typically be recognized by noticing
that the *definitions* are “hard”
and the *theorems* are “easy”.

this is pretty well-understood,
i think. i wish i knew where
i first read it, though.
there appears to be some depth here.

the point is that one–
one math subculture generally,
but… ontogeny recapitulates
phylogyny… one reader
at a time as well–

one has, well, for purposes
of argument–and there *will*
be arguments–let’s say that
one has *constructed*
definitions in such a way
*that* the theorems are easy.
to build a better mousetrap
one has taken very careful measure
of the particular kind of mouse
one aims to catch.

the style made everlastingly famous
by euclid… the very *symbol* of
academic mathematics for, anyway,
“western culture” (as dug by me;
admittedly not deeply but maybe
in some pretty rich veins at that)…

begin with definitions;
systematically develop a theory;
nothing else…

is one of the greatest tricks
since the written word itself
for making clear what *can* be
made clear by “symbol manipulation”.

but this “make sure you’ve got
the right defintions; everything
after that is just working out
details” bit. wow. heavy stuff.

because, *outside* mathematics,
this is the quasi-mystical
*power of naming*:
whoever controls the vocabulary
controls the discourse.

and i hate it.

when they want to psychologize you,
first thing they do? they make you
put *names* on your *feelings*.

the theory as presented to laity
is that this naming will help us
understand ourselves better and
allow us better to control our
own lives and so on. it’s a
darn good theory as far as it goes
of course… or feelings wouldn’t
even *have* names.

but this *formalizing* process.
in practice it appears to be
a powergrab by the psychologizer.
“now that i’ve gotten you to admit
that *this word* applies to
*your situation* let me just
beat you up for a while with
my prejudices about that word
in the form of a bunch of
“scripts” i’ve learned for
manipulating people like the
kind i’ve just decided you are
based on your showing me
this particular weakness.
thank you for playing.”

same thing in politics.
“which side are you on?”
–so i can dismiss you.
oh, that’s *socialism*
(the current jerking of
the knee on this is
beyond comical… it’s
like that frog i watched
al strickholm paralyze
with curare in about
fifth grade and then
stimulate its reflex arc
directly with an electric
current bypassing the brain
*and* the spinal cord…).

where was i?
the power of naming.
thou art that.
i’m not there, i’m gone.

Posted in Rambles | 4 Comments »

Tales From The Papernet

Posted by vlorbik on August 27, 2009

The Calculus of Friendship reviewed in IHE.

Posted in Books, Old-school Friends | 3 Comments »

Light Me Up My Bigfat, Cigar

Posted by vlorbik on August 24, 2009

Inherent Vice plugged by Sean Ferrell. The wiki.

Posted in Books, Fiction | Leave a Comment »

Joyce’s Milkmaid

Posted by vlorbik on August 24, 2009

Well, it’s seven mornings a pint at twopence is seven twos is a shilling and twopence over and these three mornings a quart at fourpence is three quarts is a shilling. That’s a shilling and one and two is two and two, sir.

Posted in Fiction, Rambles | 1 Comment »

Call For Blogposts

Posted by vlorbik on August 23, 2009

Rod C. is hosting th’ carny this coming Friday at Reasonable Deviations. Rod’s got mad chops and it’ll be a heck of lot classier than the one I did a couple years ago you can be sure.

Posted in Carnivals | Leave a Comment »

the equality meaning of the equal sign

Posted by vlorbik on August 23, 2009

so these kids that refuse to learn
what we mean by “=”?
hugely important in my opinion.
and not just because i’ve been
going on and on about
“literal truth”: the word is not the world
and so literal truth interpreted strictly
never quite actually *happens* etcetera.

my tried-and-true “first thing that
fell in my hand via google” research strategy
gets us

Many students do not understand the mathematical meaning of the equals sign: that the expressions on either side have the same value. Instead they believe that an equals sign indicates where to write an answer. This has implications for their work in the Number dimension and also for their success with algebra. From the first years of school, teachers are encouraged to stress the equality meaning of the equals sign.

so this problem will have received considerable attention
in the literature. but there’s somehow this slippage.
the kids still ain’t *gettin* it. how is this *possible*?

they’ve gotta be learning *something* from all
this drumming in their dear little ears…
on my model it’s something like this.
“they’ll *never* tell me what they *really* want;
i clearly *see* that they’re *lying* about this
“equal sign” business for example when they tell
me that it *doesn’t* mean “put the answer here”
when my older sister (let’s say) told me it *does*
and it’s marked right *sometimes* and this teacher
is *picking on me* and i can never fucking win.”

the tragedy of course is that math “should” be
the great *leveler*: where the intellectual
underworld can meet the elite on something like,
yes, “equal” terms.

i myself lost all faith in school in 7th grade.
except math. in particular i quit doing homework
altogether with the first assignment: i could
just see it was going to take up a *lot* of time
uselessly. this reaction was something like despair;
i’d always been a “good student” in the sense
of doing all the work (but a class-clown style
troublemaker; i’m sort of a glutton for attention)
and there was this moment where i saw that i’d be
giving that up. teachers approving less of me?
well, i suppose it’s natural that this is where
i’d begin approving so much less of them.

but this isn’t what i mean really, not at all.
this was bloomington: i had plenty of talented teachers
and some of ’em i even loved. i sure still wanted to
impress ’em and would show off my erudition and whatnot
and even mostly try to pull my weight or better
in in-class work. i just could see that what we
were doing didn’t have a whole lot to do with
“learning the material”: if one were really
*interested* in any of the, anyhow *academic*
material, for example, one would have to read
one heck of a lot *more* than the assignments.

and write less. because i guess the real point
or anyway part of it is that i didn’t trust
*any* of ’em to (use the system we were in to)
teach me anything about writing. and they didn’t.
most of ’em left off trying pretty quick
and i’m grateful. and maybe they did after all.
some of ’em recommended some good books, for example.

but anyhow, the *real* point (…) is that
*math is different*. these guys knew
how to do some highly-prestigious(-for-school) stuff
that i’d need for geek cred; stuff that,
anyway as it felt to me at the time
(and i have no very good reason to
second guess this estimate now),
i’d *never* be able to just read and understand
without an experienced guide.

now, that’s not my *real* real point.
what i *mean* is that something *like*
my experience… becoming convinced
that “math is different” (because
her teachers *never lie* about important stuff
and that they’ll *stick to clearly stated rules*
and when you’re *right* everybody will *agree*)
is… maybe… pretty close to the elusive
phenomenon we’ve been halfheartedly tracking:
“having a ‘math brain’ “.

that such brains are earned not doled out at birth
we will hereby take for granted. my point right now
(elusive bugger) is that by the time one can be said
to *have* such a brain one will have long since
forgotten that the equal sign can be confusing.
no two things could be more equal, somebody said.
this is about as simple as we can expect anything
ever to get or so it seems and anyhow if you can’t
get *this*, there’s not much point in talking about
anything *else* because, well, as somebody said
somewhere “algebra is the science of equations”
and if you can’t be made to care enough about it
even to find out what the hell an equation even *is*,
to hell with it. really. shop class is down the hall.

and that something like *this*
accounts for the “people who understand math
can never explain math” paradox that drives
certain battles of the mathwars.

now, i’d like to believe that a *real* math brain
will be *eager* to explain *exactly this point*…
and be the *best possible* explainer in the bargain…
to any student *actually trying to find out*
what the heck these “users of equations” are on about.

and so on for any other topic in pedagogy of math.

now, it happens to be false.
“real” math brains fall into the “that’s so obvious,
there can be nothing to say; come back when you get it”
trap *more* often than most people because they’ve
*learned* more (and hence forgotten more). what i’ve
elsewhere called “the observer tautology”
(“nothing is obvious [until it is]”)
wreaks a great deal of havok here
and gives everybody a bad name.

(students, teachers, mathematicians…
all have come short of the glory…)

and it’s going to take amazing amounts
of caring and goodwill to get *past* these
difficulties. and that putting a bunch of fucking
cameras in the rooms so we can tell if the
fucking guard is letting too many people out
to take a fucking piss isn’t necessarily
the way to fucking get it.

and this may be obvious.

but maybe not to everybody.

and fewer will say it than think it.

and fewer still we be heard.

and that most of these will be
brushed off easily.

and that the few that are left will be bribed off.
or frightened off. or anyway controlled.

“committee work”.

Posted in Math/Ed/Math Ed, Rambles | 6 Comments »